Using Your Chickens’ Manure as Vegetable Garden Fertilizer

The litter at the bottom of your chicken coop can make for a rich soil amendment.

Poop. It’s a word that makes little kids giggle mischievously.

And it’s something that your chickens produce a lot of.

Instead of viewing it as undesirable side effect of your backyard chicken hobby, change your paradigm and recognize chicken manure for what it is: A literally transformational, nutrient-rich substance that can work wonders in your garden and add a magical boost to your landscape.

And best of all, it’s free!

Why Use Chicken Manure as a Garden Fertilizer?

The University of Florida says the following about chicken manure as fertilizer:

Poultry manure has long been recognized as perhaps the most desirable of…natural fertilizers because of its high nitrogen content. In addition, manures supply other essential nutrients and serve as a soil amendment by adding organic matter. Organic matter in soil improves water and nutrient retention. The use of manure is an integral part of sustainable agriculture.

Just like commercially prepared synthetic fertilizers, chicken manure is very high in nutrients. The combined average percentages (per total weight) of aged chicken manure and litter — yes, you can use old litter from your chicken coop as a fertilizer! — is approximately 1.8 nitrogen, 1.5 phosphate, and 0.8 for potash.

Using Chicken Manure as Fertilizer: How Much Should You Use in Your Garden?

An annual application of 45 pounds of chicken manure and chicken litter, or more, per year for every 100 square feet will be just right to work wonders in your vegetable garden and increase the fertility of your soil. 45 pounds is the approximate amount that one hen will produce every year. Thus, the average small-scale chicken flock of 5-10 chickens should be enough to take care of your entire vegetable garden and yard!

Here are a few general pointers and tips for using chicken manure as a fertilizer:

1) Never feed fresh chicken manure to young, tender plants! Fresh chicken manure is “hot,” meaning it is very high in nitrogen and will “burn” the growing plants. This will kill your plants! Also, too much nitrogen can produce negative plant growth. This is why you need to age your chicken manure!

2) Poultry manure makes a great addition to compost! I recently received an “Earth Machine” composting bin as part of my local county government’s initiative to reduce green waste in Hawaii’s landfills. Although you do not need a “real” composter to compost, it can save you time. Whether or not you use an actual composter, any sort of composting converts nitrogen into a form that a plant can use without being burned. Composting also destroys the coccidia bacteria (a chicken disease), bacteria, worm eggs, and viruses, and stabilizes potash and nitrogen levels. Any composter will do, from the fancy type you see in Organic Gardening magazine, to simple homemade bins made of 2x4s and chicken wire.

Important note: Manure that is composted without carbon-based material (such as dry grass clippings) will overheat.

3) Give chicken manure time to age by spreading fresh poultry manure over your soil and turning the dirt at the end of the growing season to allow it time to decompose over the winter. However, you’ll be required to keep your poultry birds out of the area for at least a year, preferably more.

You can also try making “tea”. Chicken manure fertilizer tea; sounds delicious, eh? To make fertilizer tea, scoop the chicken manure into a burlap bag. Then, throw a rock into the bag to weigh it down and place the whole thing into a 35-gallon garbage can. Fill the garbage can with water and let it sit for about three weeks. Once the three weeks are over, you will have nutrient-rich chicken manure fertilizer tea as the water becomes infused with the nutrients from the chicken manure. You can use this fertilizer tea to water your plants to give them a vitamin boost.

Your plants will love you for it. Here’s to bigger tomatoes!

Additional offline reading:

1. Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock
2. Feeding Poultry: The Classic Guide to Poultry Nutrition for Chickens, Turkeys, Ducks, Geese, Gamebirds, and Pigeons
3. Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens

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